DENVER – The Pepsi Center must feel like home to the Minnesota Wild. It's a good thing, too, considering how poorly the team has been playing on the road in recent weeks.
With the eighth and final playoff place in the Western Conference on the line Tuesday night in the teams' final contest before the NHL All-Star Game, the Wild ended an 11-game road winless streak – one short of the franchise record -- with a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
The victory moved the Wild one point ahead of the Avalanche (55 to 54) into the final playoff position. Minnesota also has two games in hand.
"For sure, it's good," Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom said of his team's first road win since Dec. 10 against Phoenix. "You can't really think about it too much. When you start to think too much, it creeps into your head and instead of just playing hockey, you go out there and play nervous. We tried to do the right things and see what happens. We did a lot of good stuff out there."
Carson McMillan, a 23-year-old rookie who was called up from the minors a week ago, scored on a two-on-none rush at 7:44 of the third period to break a 2-2 tie.
McMillan broke into the Avalanche end with Kyle Brodziak after Avalanche defenseman Shane O'Brien lost the puck in the neutral zone. McMillan fired the puck between goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere's pads for his first goal in four games this year and his second in eight career games.
"I heard Brodzie yelling at me to go, so I just took off and I couldn't be happier," said McMillan, who was heading off the ice on a line change when the puck came to him. "I was trying to get off and I couldn't, so I just tried to have a good stick and I got a breakaway. I was shocked. I didn't know what I was doing. I just tried to open his legs up and sneak it through. He's a great goalie and he's big and he covers a lot of the net. The puck found a hole."
Giguere faced 34 shots and didn't have much chance to prevent any of the Wild's goals on a night when the Avalanche had seven official giveaways and numerous defensive breakdowns.
"They're difficult plays, but you always have a shot at making saves," Giguere said. "I'm in the business of giving up goals every once in a while, so you just have to roll with the punches and hope that you gave your best effort. I thought (McMillan) was going to deke there. I heard (Brodziak) yell, ‘Go, go,' and it was pretty clear that he was going to go and deke. He did a nice play."
The Pepsi Center was a fitting arena for the Wild to register a road win, even though the Avalanche had won 10 of its previous 12 home games. Minnesota owns Colorado in the building, posting a 9-1-2 record in the past dozen visits.
"It's a fun building to play in, a great place and a great city," said Backstrom, who stopped all 15 shots he faced in the third period after he allowed two goals on 11 shots in the first 40 minutes. "It's tough to play against those guys. I think always it's a one-goal game. It's fun, a big challenge. You look at their skill and you have to be at your best."
The Avalanche, which had 45 shots in a 3-2 loss Sunday in Anaheim, seemed flustered at its inability to mount much of an attack against the Wild until falling behind in the third period. It didn't help that leading scorer Ryan O'Reilly became ill after the morning skate and missed his first game of the season.
"It's a frustrating outcome," Avalanche captain Milan Hejduk said. "It was a huge game. We're battling with them for a playoff spot and we had home-ice advantage and we didn't come up with any points. It was not really our best effort. It felt like we were almost squeezing our sticks too tight or something. We turned the puck over too many times and gave them way too many outnumbered situations and we didn't have enough shots.
"I felt like we were chasing the game all night. We scored the first goal, but they turned the game pretty quick. They're a pretty patient team and we were giving them way too many pucks."
The Avalanche opened the scoring at 4:37 of the first period on a goal by TJ Galiardi, who replaced O'Reilly at center on a line with Gabriel Landeskog and Hejduk. Galiardi skated into the right circle and beat Backstrom high to the short side for his first goal in nine games.
Falk, a 23-year-old defenseman playing in his 54th NHL game, netted his first career goal on a power play at 10:40. Devin Setoguchi passed across to Falk for a shot from the left point that eluded Giguere, who was screened on the play. The Wild had gone 3-for-45 with the man advantage covering parts of 18 games before Falk scored.
"You don't want an ugly one, you want a pretty one," Falk said. "I found myself on the power play and I tried to keep it simple and get some shots through. Fortunately, I was able to pick a corner. I haven't played power play since probably junior. I was shocked when they called for me out there. You look at the standings and these guys were right in front of us. It was just huge to beat these guys in regulation."
Heatley followed at 16:15 after Giguere stopped Brodziak skating in alone. The rebound caromed into the right corner where Brodziak shook off a check by Ryan O'Byrne and passed to Heatley. He was well ahead of the Avalanche defense and fired the puck home for his team-leading 15th goal.
Chuck Kobasew, who spent the previous two seasons with Minnesota, tied the game at 4:46 of the second period. Daniel Winnik, who didn't register a point in the previous eight games, took a shot from high in the left circle and the puck trickled between Backstrom's pads. Kobasew skated in front and poked the loose puck across the goal line.